Interviewer Underestimates American Can-Do Spirit

In the December 2010 St. Louis Magazine, Robert Meyerowitz talks to author Eric Jay Dolin about his latest book Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America.

Meyerowitz underestimates what the American people can put their mind to when they want to do something when he “asks” (it’s not a question, it’s a viewpoint the journalist wants the author to agree with):

And somehow the beaver survives this slaughter, albeit in lesser numbers—by some conservative estimates, from a high of more than 60 million when Europeans came to North America to around 10 million today. Despite our best efforts, we didn’t eradicate it, or the buffalo or the sea otter.

Despite our best efforts? Well, here are the two common flaws with the question:

  • Talking about historical residents of the continent as “we.” The better to charge contemporary residents of the United States with the alleged sins committed by the forefathers of some small portion of the population.
  • Confusing the result with the intent. Mankind, and Americans, have hunted species into extinction and into near extinction, but in most cases that was not the intent. Trappers wanted beaver skins for hats so the Europeans would look cool. They could make money from the skins. They had nothing against the beavers themselves. When Americans want something eradicated, it gets eradicated. See smallpox. Well, Americans used to, before less intelligent Americans formed People for the Preservation of Pathogens that Kill People and whatnot.

The author of the book responds with:

We came pretty darn close. When you only have 1,091 buffalo left and you had 30 million, that’s a close shave. With beaver we did virtually exterminate them as we swept east to west. Now they’re making a comeback. The beavers, of all the animals, are the ones that are actually doing the best as far reestablishing themselves.

Sure, and now governments kill them as a nuisance when they block up creeks and streams. You know, when they act human and alter the environment to suit their needs. Naughty little beavers.

You know what saved the beavers and let them come back? It wasn’t enlightened consciousness. It was a change in fashion.

The beaver saver

What was my point?

Oh, yes, the interviewer in this case really took the opportunity to pose a flawed, leading statement to a publicity-hungry author. That question was designed to put Man, especially Americans, in a bad light and to elevate the poor beaver and bison.

If we, and by we, I mean people who died centuries before I was born and fewer centuries before most of my ancestors arrived had wanted to spend their best efforts to kill all the beavers, they would all be dead a long time.

2 thoughts on “Interviewer Underestimates American Can-Do Spirit

  1. There were intermittent efforts to kill off the buffalo in order to weaken the Native Americans dependent upon them. But otherwise, your point stands. There’s a difference between result and intention, and if we intended to exterminate the beaver, it would be long dead.

    If we actually want to preserve the beaver, there’s a simple way to go about it: start eating them. Chickens outnumber humans three to one because they’re food.

    And countries with declining populations? Well, let’s just…wait, nevermind. That’s probably a bad idea.

  2. Actually, the next part of the author’s answer (not depicted) is about whether bison count as a success, since their numbers are up but that’s because there are a lot of bison on ranches en route to becoming tasty and healthy bison burgers.

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